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Many conditions can cause your skin to become bluish in tint. For example, bruises and varicose veins can appear blue in color. Poor circulation or inadequate oxygen levels in your blood stream can also cause your skin to turn bluish. This skin discoloration is also known as cyanosis.
Cyanosis can affect your:
This bluish coloring is more common in newborns as their skin learns to adjust to the environment. It’s also more noticeable on light colored skin. But cyanosis can also suggest that there’s something wrong with the lungs, heart, or circulatory system.
Most of the time, cyanosis is an indicator of a serious health condition. Read on to learn about the types of cyanosis, what causes this condition, and when you should see a doctor.
There are four types of cyanosis:
Peripheral cyanosis: When your limbs are not getting enough oxygen or blood flow due to low flow or injury
Central cyanosis: When there is low overall oxygen available to the body, often due to abnormal blood proteins or a low oxygen state
Mixed cyanosis: This happens when a combination of peripheral and central cyanosis occurs at the same time.
Acrocyanosis: Extreme cyanosis can happen around your hands and feet when you’re in the cold. This is often normal in babies, especially when it doesn’t show up anywhere else on the body. Acrocyanosis should resolve after you warm back up.
Cyanosis occurs when there’s too little oxygen in the blood. Oxygen-rich blood is deep red and is the cause of your skin’s normal color. Under oxygenated blood is more blue and causes your skin to be bluish purple.
Cyanosis can develop quickly as a result of an acute health problem or external factor. Life threatening causes of cyanosis include:
Cyanosis can also be the result of a worsening health condition or develop gradually as a result of a chronic or long-term health condition. Many health disorders that involve the heart, lungs, blood or circulation will also cause cyanosis. These include:
Most causes of cyanosis are serious and a sign that your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. Over time, this condition will become life threatening. It can lead to respiratory failure, heart failure, and even death, if left untreated.
Contact your doctor if you develop a bluish tint to your skin, lips, fingertips, or fingernails that can’t be explained by bruising and doesn’t go away overtime.
Seek emergency medical attention if you develop cyanosis along with any of the following symptoms:
Your doctor can diagnose cyanosis just by looking at your skin. To diagnose the cause of cyanosis, your doctor will perform a complete physical exam. They’ll ask you about your medical history including when your symptoms developed.
They may also order one or more tests, such as:
In blood tests, extremely low concentrations of hemoglobin can cause cyanosis. Central cyanosis occurs when your hemoglobin count reaches below 5 g/dL. Normal hemoglobin for an adult is between 12-17 g/dL.
Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of your cyanosis. Ask them for more information about your specific diagnosis and treatment options.
For example, your doctor may prescribe supplemental oxygen therapy if you have a condition that affects your airways or breathing. In this therapy, you will receive oxygen through a mask or a tube placed in your nose. Your doctor may also recommend medications, surgery, or other treatments.
For conditions that affect your heart or blood vessels, your doctor may prescribe medications, surgery, or other treatments.
If you’ve been diagnosed with Raynaud’s syndrome, your doctor may advise you to dress warmly and limit your time in cold environments.
Some causes of cyanosis are difficult to prevent. But you can take steps to lower your risk of developing cyanosis and some conditions that cause it.
These steps include:
Written by: Darla Burke
Medically reviewed on: Nov 10, 2016: Judith Marcin, MD
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